Dispatches from Chromatica: Kindness In Community

September 29, 2022

By Maya Smith

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When we named the Kindness in Community Fund (click here to meet them!), I thought I was being clever. The team at Born This Way Foundation gets a kick out of kindness and I can’t pass up a good acronym (KiC), so we launched the Kindness in Community Fund into the world and went to work. The idea for the fund originated in 2017, when Born This Way Foundation team members volunteered alongside local organizations at each stop on Lady Gaga’s Joanne World Tour. The local nonprofits each had their own unique set of challenges and unmet needs. As a result, the Kindness in Community Fund was created to respond directly to the emerging and changing needs of nonprofit partners and the communities they serve across the country. The Born This Way Foundation team had the privilege of witnessing the impactful community-led mental health work of the Kindness in Community Fund recipients at each stop of Lady Gaga’s The Chromatica Ball Summer Stadium Tour.

Three months, 12 cities, 22 grantees, 15 in- person events and, 15 performances of “Born This Way,” we are overwhelmed by the kindness we witnessed across places, people, and communities. We are moved by the organizations that allowed us to bear witness to their necessary and hopeful work across the country, and the lessons we were able to take from each.

From Civic Suds, we learned about how to utilize and transform space. Their model is to transform laundromats into the civic spaces that they often are: a place where people share resources, spend time, and meet unmet needs. Civic Suds is reimagining laundromats and sparking social change by offering vetted program services from local partners focused on literacy, health, and financial inclusion. They also offer access to WiFi and classroom spaces. During our afternoon together in Washington D.C., they taught us that most laundromat customers are low-income renters who spend around 90 minutes in the laundromat each week, with more than a quarter of the laundromat visitors being under the age of 16. Civic Suds enables their community members to make the most of their time in the spaces that they’re already in an inspiring, responsive and inclusive community model that has me thinking about the places I live, work, and play differently. 

From Guitars Over Guns, we learned about generosity and sharing your roadmap for survival. The adages are plentiful and they all translate to my favorite version; if you have more than what you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence. If you’ve learned something that makes your life easier, more efficient, more enjoyable and so forth then you should share it. In Miami, I watched this in action at Guitars Over Guns as mentors patiently and kindly poured their love and talent into a group of young singers, working to harmonize an incredibly powerful version of Lady Gaga’s “Applause.” As we closed the afternoon, we sat on the floor and each shared our gratitude for the day. A young woman, a new mentor to the program, shared that the experiences of the students in the room closely mirrored her own. She could have stopped there, acknowledging their shared pain and resilience, and it wouldn’t have left a dry eye in the room. She continued sharing what she wished she would have known in moments of doubt, the tools that she later found to help herself survive and concluded with, “More than anything, y’all deserve this. You deserve success, you deserve to be here and you are worthy.” The certainty in her voice was clear, as if she was speaking to a younger version of herself. Her generosity, kindness and investment in these young people exemplifies the inspirational mission of Guitars Over Guns, as they work with the most vulnerable communities to offer a powerful combination of music education and mentorship from professional musicians that help them overcome hardship, find their voice and reach their potential as tomorrow’s leaders. 

At Miry’s List, we learned how to welcome people so they know that they belong. We arrived after a rare rain in Los Angeles and were immediately enveloped in the movement of neighbors and friends at Miry’s List who are is dedicated to welcoming new arrival refugee families into a kind, solution-oriented community. We packed welcome kits, wrote notes to newly arrived Afghan and Ukrainian families, and learned about their eager community of volunteers (many of them refugees themselves) who felt the abundant community that Miry and her colleagues have built and happily gave what they had, when they could. Miry is quick to remind every person that walks into their space of their beautiful model with and for their brave, new neighbors; survive, hive, and thrive. 

I haven’t written the words “mental health” yet, which is unusual given the nature of Born This Way Foundation’s work, but I hope that as you read these paragraphs and imagine our team out in the world, in awe of these amazing organizations, you see that while I haven’t stated the words, I am talking about mental health in each powerful example. Each act of kindness, validation, invitation, creativity, teaching, and community is tied to our collective mental health. With the help of these organizations and communities, they add up, enabling our ability to survive another day. We need all of these things at once; we need kind people representing diverse communities, leveraging all of their abundance in response to unmet needs, recognizing that needs are intersectional, ongoing and evolving and thinking collaboratively about how to build a kinder and braver world – for all of us, but especially for those least invited to wax philosophical on the topic. 

 Our Kindness In Community Fund, more than any other program in our ten years at the Foundation, became an immediate, affirming, and inclusive staple of our work moving forward. It’s a favorite among our staff, and it’s the key to the community that we’ve built and invested in this year. The best part, perhaps, I’ve saved for last. We are all capable of kindness in community, in the laundromat, with our new neighbors, with the new student that sits down next to us in class. We’ve stumbled on an equation, an invitation and a movement that requires all of us and only when we all participate can the vision of Kindness in Community will ever be realized.

I know that sounds like a tall order, and I wouldn’t write about it here if I hadn’t seen it myself, if I hadn’t been in these spaces and met these leaders and watched them save lives and hold hearts and minds with care and compassion.

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